Sony's PlayStation 3 finally launches in Europe tonight, and in the UK the official Sony event is taking place at the Virgin Megastore on London's Oxford Street. With mere hours until the 12 a.m. launch, GameSpot spoke to Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's Jonathan Fargher about what consumers can expect from the official event, as well as freebies, backward compatibility, and Home.
GameSpot UK: Tell us a little bit about what's happening tonight.
Jonathan Fargher: Ultimately, tonight's focus is going to be consumers, so tonight consumers are welcome to come down and collect the machine that they've preordered. We'll be laying on food for them, laying on drinks for them, and making sure that they're very well looked after. We'll make sure that those that have preordered a PlayStation 3 will make it home safely, so like we say, it's very consumer focussed. You're not going to see any celebrities down here, it's not really PlayStation's style. We acknowledge the extra time that some people have spent down here, and we want to repay their loyalty and their patience and really just look after them... There's going to be activity in-store like live DJs, but we're just wanting to make sure we're looking after the people who are waiting.
GSUK: The first people started appearing down here yesterday afternoon...
JF: Yeah, I believe the were a couple of people down here yesterday afternoon. [Virgin] have a system in place where you can come down, you can get a wristband, and you can then go off and get something to eat.
GSUK: Can people who haven't preordered come down here tonight and buy a PlayStation 3?
JF: Yeah, if you want to come down here then you can do that.
GSUK: Is it likely that they're going to sell out?
JF: To be honest, you'll have to speak to Virgin about that, I don't know what their allocation is for this store. Again, the main reason to delay the launch in Europe, apart from it being a logistical issue, was that we wanted to be in a situation where there would be a lot of machines on day one. That's both for Europe and on a UK level. We're almost in a lose-lose situation--if we sell out on day one, then people will ask why we couldn't possibly have met demand, and that we should have been aware of the high demand for the machine. But if we don't sell out on day one because we've put steps in place to make sure that there's a steady stream of stock into retail, there's a large number of units on day one, then people will question why we haven't sold out. You know, this time around with 1 million machines for Europe and slightly more than 220,000 units for the UK means that there have been an exceptional number of preorders. You only have to speak to the retailers and they will say that demand and the order level for PlayStation 3 has been phenomenal and far and away their most successful hardware launch. We want to be in a situation where people can preorder their machines, but there will certainly be stock left. We want to be in the position where if you go into a store tomorrow, you will be able to pick up a machine off the shelf. It doesn't make good business sense from a commercial point of view or for retailers if consumers can't come into a store and buy a PlayStation 3.
GSUK: What about the follow-up supply, are there plenty of PlayStation 3s coming into Europe?
JF: Absolutely, from a UK point of view there are going to be shipments coming in on a weekly basis. Wherever possible, we're going to do everything we can to make sure there's not a boom-and-bust scenario where, dare I say it, even our own hardware launches have been [in the past]. Instead of a consumer coming into a store tomorrow or in a couple of days' time and not being able to get hold of a PlayStation 3, they're going to be in a position where they can get their hands on one hopefully. That's a bonus for retailers and a bonus for us.
GSUK: Virgin Megastores are associated with games but they're not a specialist--how did you decide to partner up with them for the official launch of the PS3?
JF: Virgin as a store offers a wide range of multimedia ranges, with CDs, DVDs, [and] Blu-ray, and I think that's a perfect fit for the PlayStation 3. We're very much pushing it as a broad entertainment device, and by partnering up with a retail partner that's well known for that sort of content, I think [it] works very well.
GSUK: There have been some issues surrounding the launch of the PS3 in other territories [such as violence and muggings]...
JF: We've worked very closely with Westminster Council and the Metropolitan Police to make sure that there's no queuing on the streets, and that people are well looked after and out of the elements. Obviously, it's an expensive piece of hardware and we've asked people to make sure they use common sense. Don't travel by yourself, and make sure you know how you're getting home.
GSUK: Are there any incentives for consumers buying the console early?
JF: I believe that they're going to get a free copy of Resistance: Fall of Man...is this going up tonight?
GSUK: It depends how quickly we can write it!
JF: Er...they're going to get a free Blu-Ray disc [and] a copy of Resistance, and I'm sure Virgin have a few bits and pieces and goodies lined up for them as well.
GSUK: A number of third-party games such as Oblivion and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 have missed the UK launch this week. Do you care to make a comment on that?
JF: I can't comment on third-party development really, but it's obviously an unfortunate situation and we would have liked to have all of those big intellectual properties at launch, and it's an unfortunate situation of development really.
GSUK: When people get home tonight they're going to be expecting the firmware update, so is that going to be available?
JF: [They'll have] 1.6 firmware available from day one, which means that they'll have access to 1,700 PlayStation 2 titles out of the box. The 1.6 firmware update also allows for background downloading from the network store, and also includes something called Folding@home, which is the software that we've worked on in conjunction with Stanford University, so there are a number of key features that will be in the 1.6 update.
GSUK: There's some confusion over your terminology for backward compatibility. What do "minor" and "noticeable" issues actually mean?
JF: I can't expand on that, but on day one we've tried to make sure that as many PlayStation 2 titles are compatible as possible. That said, backward compatibilty is and will continue to be an important focus for us. The software engineers that have managed to make 1,700 titles will continue to work to a solution where as close to 100 percent of those titles will work [on PlayStation 3] with as few issues as possible.
GSUK: One of the big new features for the machine is that it's region-free for software, so can we expect first-party Sony titles to be released simultaneously worldwide?
JF: I certainly hope so. One of the advantages of software going region-free is that consumers have more choice, and it also means that gone are the days where you'd see a title released in America or Japan and then you'd have to wait six months for it to appear in the UK. If anything, it puts more pressure on us to make worldwide release schedules much closer on a territory-by-territory basis. Another thing that Blu-ray has allowed us to do is include multiple languages on one disc, so that's an added bonus as well. The network store will offer consumers a broad range of content, whether it be movie content, trailers, and downloadable games like flOw, almost instantaneously.
GSUK: One of Sony's big recent announcements was Home--is that going to be coming to Europe as well?
JF: It is, and it's set for release this year around October or November time. At the moment, we're doing a closed trial, and that will continue to extend and expand as we get closer to launch. Ultimately, it will be made available via firmware update, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It's a very "PlayStation" way of bringing together all of the elements of the xross media bar--photos, music, video, and games into one place, and I think Home will do that very, very well.
GSUK: Thanks for that, Jonathan.
Note: According to Sony's public relations department, 650 units have been made available at the official Sony Virgin Megastore launch on London's Oxford Street.